After volunteering 7,000 hours helping the Nantahala Hiking Club maintain the 60 miles of Appalachian Trail in Macon County, Don O’Neal is giving up his title as trail supervisor, but, he is not giving up being a trail maintainer.
O’Neal has worked as a volunteer clearing the trail, working with crews building shelters, privies and marking the trail which the club maintains from Bly Gap at the Georgia state line, to the Nantahala River in Wesser. He has been the person who organizes the trail work crews which keep this section of the trail one of the most popular.
O’Neal, a retired physician from the Western Carolina University Health Services, has been working on the trail for 29 years. Although he is giving up his supervisor title, he said recently that he will not be giving up volunteering on the trail.
O’Neal got interested in trail maintenance when he started walking the trail in 1981. He’s been at it ever since.
Trail maintenance crews, all volunteers, meet on Wednesdays and head to a section of the trail to build water bars or rock steps, clear blown down trees, keep weeds from encroaching, and generally check out the trail condition. The crews use cross cut saws and hand tools in the wilderness areas of the trail. The crews undergo chainsaw, cross cut saw and tool sharpening classes.
When the weather turns bad, the crews still meet at the club house and perform maintenance on their tools which include chainsaws, fire rakes, axes, cross cut saws, and the tools for building shelters.
O’Neal has praises for the cross cut saw and axes. “They are efficient and easy to carry,” he said recently at a gathering his fellow trail maintainers held for him.
A trio of club members will be taking O’Neal’s place as trail supervisors: Dr. San Ho Choi, George Gover and Bill Van Horn.